Real Estate

Why a young couple shunned the city and bought their first home in cottage country

outside of kat wong's magnetewan cottage Photo courtesy Kat Wong

The search

Kat Wong, a marketing director, always thought her first home would be in Toronto. She’d been saving up for a down payment since she graduated from university in 2012. When the pandemic hit, she was renting a one-bedroom apartment with her partner, Graeme Guthrie, who is a personal trainer, and she figured it was time to upgrade their space.

Kat first thought about buying a larger condo (she’d front the down payment, and Graeme would pay housing costs). But she wasn’t happy with what she saw. “Places had $700–$800 per month condo fees,” she says. “And the den would be a room with a glass door.” By the summer of 2020, Kat had a new, fully remote job, and Graeme was taking some time off from training. This made the couple realize that they weren’t confined to living in the city. Over the past few years, they had visited friends’ cottages in Haliburton, Muskoka, and Parry Sound and admired the access to nature and slower pace of life. So, Kat switched her focus from condo shopping to cottage hunting instead.

Kat hoped to spend $650,000, but she was willing to go up to $800,000. She wanted at least two bedrooms and 100 feet of frontage. Since her friends and family still live in the GTA, she didn’t want to be more than a three-hour drive away. She also wanted to have year-round road access and be close to amenities such as grocery and hardware stores.

By October 2020, Kat began viewing cottages around Parry Sound, Ont., and Huntsville, Ont. She put in three offers, but lost out to competing bids that were $100,000 or more than what she offered.

Kat wasn’t deterred. “There weren’t any properties that I had my heart set on and thought, It has to be this one,” she says. “I went in with a pragmatic view that whatever property we ended up getting, we’d make it our own.”

The compromise

On a Saturday in February of 2021, in the middle of a snowstorm, Kat and Graeme trekked up to Magnetawan, Ont., to view a three-bedroom, two-bathroom bungalow on Old Mans Lake.

“All the walls were green, and the siding needed work,” Kat says. “But those were things we were willing to gradually upgrade.” She also liked that the cottage was built in the 1990s, instead of being 50 or 60 years old like many listings on the market. Graeme, who has previous experience in construction and renovations, felt that the property was in good condition. Her realtor also assured her that the structure was “rock solid,” so the couple decided to forgo an inspection. By Monday, Kat submitted her first offer.

The cottage was listed at $550,000, but based on comparable properties that had recently sold, she put her bid at $720,000. The sellers came back later that day, letting her know her offer was in the top three and asked if she could improve it. So she went back at $756,000, which the sellers accepted. “I was excited, but I immediately went into planning mode,” Kat says. First thing’s first, she had to buy a car.

Cozy wood panelled living room with woodstove
Photo courtesy Kat Wong

No regrets

Kat and Graeme have celebrated the last two Christmases on Old Mans Lake. “It’s been really nice,” she says. “Typically we’d spend Christmas in Toronto, but it was hard to decorate. Now, we have more space.”

There have been some surprises with cottage living. In their first year, a woodpecker tried to build a nest in the cedar siding. “I woke up one morning at 6 a.m. to the drumming of a woodpecker pulling out pink insulation,” Kat recalls. Kat and Graeme now spend most of the winter hibernating at the cottage, admiring the deer and partridges that pass by. They’ve also taken up snowshoeing.

One of the couples’ favourite activities is walking out onto the lake after it has safely frozen over. “Imagine your backyard suddenly expanding,” Kat says. “I love the novelty of being able to stand in the middle of the lake. It isn’t a view that we normally get.”

This article first appeared in the Winter ’23 issue of Cottage Life.

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